Jewelry Borrowing Is Back in Style

Keith Rosen, president of the fine jewelry rental service Beekman New York, spent one afternoon this spring helping clients choose jewelry to wear to a 50th birthday party for Larry and Greg Keigwin. (Larry, one of the twin brothers, is married to Beekman’s owner and co-founder, Christian Keesee.) Between the fittings at Beekman’s Upper East Side showroom, Mr. Rosen shipped a Bulgari necklace to a client in Hilton Head, S.C.

As weddings and social events return, such hectic days have become common again for jewelry rental companies, including Rent the Runway and Rocksbox. And at Beekman, they are a far cry from the slow business period that followed the site’s introduction in February 2020 and the arrival of the pandemic.

“Our model is event-driven borrowing and sharing,” Mr. Rosen said. “Weddings came back first once vaccines became mainstream,” and since then, events like the gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Parsons Benefit have returned to the New York social calendar.

Beekman declined to share its financial details, and there are no estimates available of global jewelry rental revenues. But the descriptions of increased activity seem to be supported by Bain & Company’s 2021 study showing that global sales of luxury goods, including jewelry, have made a V-shaped recovery and were estimated to top 283 billion euros ($297.7 billion) by the end of last year.

Carmen Busquets, the Venezuelan businesswoman and investor often referred to as the fairy godmother of fashion e-commerce thanks to her role in starting Net-a-Porter, said she believes wholeheartedly in jewelry rental — even though Flont, a fine jewelry rental website that attracted her investment, closed in 2019.

“The fine jewelry rental market’s potential is huge,” she said in a phone interview, “especially if all the major luxury brands were to implement it, because it is based on a truly sustainable model.”

Ms. Busquets said brands seem to have misconceptions about jewelry rental, adding that, once a good insurance partner has been secured, it is much like any other e-commerce business.

Mr. Keesee, Beekman’s owner — who is also the chairman of Kirkpatrick Bank in Oklahoma — traced the company’s start to an evening in September 2018. “One friend who always had the cleverest jewelry remarked on the prevalence of clothing rental platforms, lamenting the lack of a similar fine jewelry option,” he said. “That conversation was the original spark.”

Sharon Novak, the company’s original president and co-founder, left in March 2021, and Mr. Rosen, formerly managing director for the Americas at De Grisogono, arrived the following month; he was then charged with streamlining Beekman’s website and growing the clientele.

Mr. Rosen said the business now owns nearly 1,000 pieces of jewelry, acquired at auctions, estate sales and jewelry houses in London, Rome, Paris and New York. Among the pieces are creations by Cartier, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Stephen Webster, Anna Sheffield — and, notably, one of the Bird on a Rock brooches designed by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany.

“Rather than keeping these precious pieces locked away in the vault, we share them,” Mr. Keesee said.

Anny Choi, head stylist at Over the Moon, a wedding platform, said Beekman has been “a lifesaver” for styling brides and wedding parties. “Other platforms offered logo-driven designer costume jewelry such as Dior and Chanel — not necessarily classic fine jewelry,” Ms. Choi said in a phone interview from her London apartment. “With Beekman’s curation, I can send pieces to brides and bridal parties plus the moms and grandmothers.”

But Marion Fasel, a jewelry historian and founder of the fine jewelry digital magazine The Adventurine, said she is somewhat perplexed by the business’s premise. “Jewelry is a personal possession usually bought to mark an occasion,” she said. “Renting changes this dynamic.”

She said the service certainly might appeal to older clients with active social lives who are searching for celebrity-style status symbols, but, Ms. Fasel added, “I think it would behoove Beekman to have more day-to-day goods to expand its reach.”

Greg Kwiat, chief executive of the jewelry and watch company Kwiat, which also owns Fred Leighton, also had some reservations — even though his business once considered partnering with Flont.

“What if you cannibalize your product?” he asked. “We want clients to enjoy the jewelry but renting it out routinely diminishes the piece over time.” As a result, Kwiat puts a different spin on loans: Clients who buy an engagement ring may borrow another piece to wear during the wedding as part of the “something borrowed” tradition.

Some large jewelry businesses have long lent or rented pieces to their best customers, a kind of V.I.P. perk. But it took the broad reach of the internet to turn the practice into an organized business.

In 2012, the San Francisco-based rental service Rocksbox launched, offering a $21-a-month subscription plan that delivered three pieces of costume jewelry to subscribers every month. As demand increased, the service began offering demi-fine jewelry as well. Since the business was acquired last year by Signet Jewelers, the parent company of jewelry retailers Zales, Kay and Jared, Meaghan Rose, the Rocksbox founder, has been working with her team to explore the possibility of adding fine jewelry to the platform’s offerings.

“Gen Zs and Millennials embrace the concept of shared ownership, from cars to clothes to homes,” she said. “Brands once thought of rental as a threat, but now see an opportunity to establish a relationship with a new customer.”

Beekman’s clientele, Mr. Rosen said, primarily features highly educated clients between the ages of 25 and 45 who are familiar with sharing models like Rent the Runway and Airbnb. And older customers, he said, particularly like the ability to schedule fittings at homes and offices in the metropolitan New York area — “a level of service we didn’t expect to have initially,” he said.

Rentals generally cost 6 to 10 percent of the jewelry’s perceived retail value, Mr. Rosen said. Clients may also subscribe for $89 per month, for a minimum of three months, or subscribe for one year for $890. Those members gain perks such as access to special pieces and discounted pricing for extended rentals; nonmembers may still rent from Beekman, but they cannot reserve pieces, nor do they have access to special members-only designs.

Deposits are not required, Mr. Rosen said, and insurance is generally included, with some exceptions based on the duration of the rental, value of the jewelry, and location where the piece will be worn.

Such exceptions are a drawback, Ms. Choi said: “The insurance policy for the jewelry is a bit more complicated for international events and weddings, so it’s hard to keep the rental cost low.”

As Rocksbox offers jewelry of lesser value than Beekman does, the company’s concerns differ. “We watch the frequency of damaged, unreturned or lost merchandise, and look for a repetitive dynamic. It’s predictable after several incidents,” Ms. Rose said. “The risk and expense are manageable. It’s the digital version of store security.”

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